History of Solvang

History of Solvang

If it wasn’t for that dedicated group of Danish teachers in 1911, Solvang might well be just another generic rest stop off the 101 Freeway, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Before Danish immigrants settled in the wide and sunny Santa Ynez Valley, the native Chumash Indians were spread throughout San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties for 9,000 years. It’s estimated that at least 22,000 native Chumash were in the state when the Spanish arrived in California to begin the building of their mission chain. The Chumash remain a prominent presence in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Mariner, soldier and explorer Juan Cabrillo sailed into the Santa Barbara channel with two ships, in 1542, charting the area and claiming the coast of Alta California for the Spanish king.

Franciscan Father Esteven Tapis arrived to found Mission Santa Ines in 1804, named for Saint Agnes, and to convert the friendly and peace loving, Chumash Indians. After the devastating 1812 earthquake destroyed most of the California missions (including Santa Ines) a new mission was constructed in 1817. At that time there were 920 Chumash living on the mission grounds. But most of the Chumash left the mission in 1824 after a Spanish soldier beat a Chumash boy, causing the local Indians to revolt. Chumash came from Santa Barbara Mission to help in the fight and two Indians were killed.

In 1834 all the California missions were secularized and in 1843, Mission Santa Ines was returned back to the Roman Catholic Church. By 1850, Danish immigration into the United States began after Denmark’s economy, becoming more industrialized, forced one in ten Danes to leave their country in search of better prospects abroad. They started settlements all over the U.S., including, in 1911, building a community in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, northwest of Santa Barbara.

Construction in Solvang was generally in the local style of the area but by the 1940’s, the idea of a Danish village took hold and “Danish Provincial” style became the dominant look. Even the facades of older buildings were changed to the Danish thatched, rural, half timbered style. During this time the first of the town’s four windmills was constructed, too.

Today, Solvang has made itself a thriving tourist attraction, drawing over one million yearly visitors to its quaint and very profitable city.

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